Griffith Park is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. When I was freelancing and dealing with the highs and lows of full-time journalism, I would often need a break from the city, and I would head over to hike the trail behind the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood to find solace and peace. Sometimes I would go with my friend and fellow writer J. David Gonzalez. We would talk writing, NBA, and literature. Most often I went alone with my dog Hendrix.
It’s part of the reason why I see Griffith Park as a place of serenity in this monstrous city. Hiking in Los Angeles is important to L.A. life, and it’s something Michelle Meyering discusses in a trailer for The Rattling Wall 3. There is just something about being above Los Angeles and having the ability to look at it from a higher vantage point that makes you feel the city isn’t so large, so intimidating and that you’re not lost in it. At the same time, it’s rare that you can see through the haze, the smog, and there is an element of vagueness to the horizon, as if Los Angeles can never truly be seen. I’m thinking about these things as my move to San Diego approaches. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Los Angeles has changed me.
Over the next couple weeks, I plan on reflecting on Los Angeles on this blog. I’ve come to love this city. I’ve come to think about it as a second home, and I feel that I was able to grow as a writer tremendously here. I was able to publish in great publications like the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, The Independent, and more while I was living here, and I also published poetry and fiction. On the other hand, I’ve also had a lot of artistic failures with stories, which most people will never see. In the end, I’ve been a part of several fantastic L.A. organizations, and I’ve met so many people who will continue to inspire me. So how has L.A. changed me?
Listen to the City
I went to the Griffith Observatory with me dog to contemplate this question, and when I got to the top of the trail where you can look out across all of Los Angeles and see from Downtown to Westwood, I just kind of sat there and listened. I heard a woman complain to the man she was with about her work problems. I watched a man walk by muttering to himself with the Hollywood sign in the background about how he hates his family, his identity, his religion. I saw two horses walk up the path, and I watched a couple take turns snapping photos of each other. I watched the helicopters move back and forth in front of the city like dragonflies. I heard the crickets beginning to hum mixed with the sounds of roaring cars on Sunset Boulevard. I took notes so I could write about these moments, these images, these sounds. I snapped photographs. I carried my Nikon and tripod up to the top of the trail.
The Diversity of Experience
One thing that I’ve learned about Los Angeles is that it’s impossible to truly know it all. It’s such a massive city with so many different neighborhoods that one life is not enough to understand the complexity. I love the diversity of experience. Today I went and had incredible sushi on Wilshire and then went to a mexican bakery and had flan and guava cookies. I walked to the Santa Monica bluffs and smelled the roses in the garden. I had beers in a bar where Cowboy fans cheered. I’ve also walked down the streets that most people don’t want to even admit exist. It’s not all beautiful in L.A. It can be ugly and devastating too. I’ve learned that I love the ugly and devastating sides, too. I don’t want to live in those places. But it’s important for me to know they exist. It’s important for me to write about them and see a city and place as a whole. It’s easy to only look at one neighborhood and forget about the rest.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t that familiar with a lot of the literature that came out of this city. I had read a lot of Bukowski, Didion, and Raymond Chandler, authors who I had fallen in love with, but when I finally arrived here, I started to read Nathaneal West, Luis J. Rodriguez, Jerry Stahl, Mark Haskell Smith, Pynchon, James Ellroy, John Gregory Dunne, and countless others. I was also a sort of curator for the L.A. Weekly’s Greatest Novel Tournament. The literature of Los Angeles rivals any city, and at the heart of the writing, it’s about the search for identity. Whether that is a private detective trying to cipher through the shadows of the city or Chinaski searching for a way to define himself in the Post Office, Los Angeles literature is about sifting through the enormous amount of bullshit and ugliness in one of the most stunning places in the world to examine what is truly and authentically beautiful or ugly or true. I’ve started writing a novel and finished a draft of a novella set in Los Angeles. I love the way the city looks through words. I love the way the city is in black and white and in incredible high-definition in my mind. I love the emerging writers like Wendy Ortiz, Natashia Deon, Jeremy Radin, and the fantastic work of guerrilla literary events staged by Peter Woods, Jessica Ceballos, and Chiwan Choi. I love the literary criticism that comes from the LA Times, especially David Ulin and Carolyn Kellogg. I love BuzzFeed and Vice and the LA Weekly. I love the recklessness of it all, as if rebellion and grit are concepts that can still be real and true. I love the haze and the color that rests on the city. I love the challenge of capturing it all.
When I first moved to Southern California, I really only saw myself as a writer. That was my creative outlet. Words. Poetry. Scene. But now that I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve learned that I’m actually a multimedia artist — or just a general creative. I know that sounds a bit weird to say, but it’s true. I’ve come to love video, illustration, audio, photography, and I’m stating to learn how to use these mediums to create something fresh. I’ve never really been interested in Hollywood. I’ve never really cared about making movies or acting, but I’m working toward using multimedia in all of it’s facets to create. I love photography now, and I’m moving toward video. I sort of jumped into video over the last few months, but I’ve realized I need to take my time and bit and figure it out more. Learn the fundamentals and then move into another area. I’ve thought about video poems, and I expect to start producing them over the next year, as well as more video interviews. I’m just going to take my time. I’m excited to find out how I can harness this new energy. Lynda.com is really helping.
The L.A. Light
Now that I’m pursuing photography more, I’ve learned to pay more attention to light. And as I was on the top of the trail looking out over L.A., I couldn’t help but be in awe of the colors changing and the softness of the light as it rested on the paths.
The sun brings so much color and vibrance to this city. When I was up at the top of the trail, I was enjoying taking shots of the light creating contrasting tones out of the Hollywood Hills. But as soon as that sun started dropping, I could tell that I had a few minutes before my window of the golden hour was gone. I’ve come to understand the importance of shooting in the golden hour, right before sunset, and I started running around the hills, hoping to find the perfect shot. I was running back and forth with my tripod and trying to hold onto my dog on the leash. I was taking photos everywhere that I could, hoping to buy a few more shots before the sun set. Then it hit me.
I was in a panic to take Los Angeles in the same way that I thought I was losing the light. It was hitting me. I was going to leave soon. I only had so much time left in this Golden Hour of Los Angeles. But then I thought of a novel that I loved, and I realized that the sun was also going to rise again tomorrow. I’m going to come back to this city all the time. I’m only two hours away. And I’m going to be writing about this city, hoping to understand it, perhaps, a bit more from a short distance away. There are too many Rattling Wall and Dirty Laundry Lit events I need to go see. I leave at the end of this month. Hello Goodbye Los Angeles.